Voting is a key way to keep decision making as democratic as possible. It is a great way to empower everyone to have their say in decisions.
The Right to Vote
The right to vote is a key part of any democracy. Democracy means everyone has a vote in elections and have a say in who runs the country. Most countries started out only giving the right to vote in parliamentary elections to rich men. Over time, in most places, the range of people who can vote has increased. In the United Kingdom it took until 1918 for any women to be gain the right to vote. It took until 1928 for all men and women over the age of 21, regardless of whether they owned property, to have that right. In 1969 the voting age was reduced to 18.
Young people are still not allowed to vote in parliamentary elections. How old do you think you should have to be to be able to vote? Should there be a minimum age? How about a maximum age?
There is a major campaign to allow votes at sixteen. There is a famous saying “no taxation without representation”. This means you shouldn’t have to pay taxes in a country where you have no say over the government who set those taxes and decide how to spend them. This is the case for 16 and 17 years olds who are working in the UK as they have to pay income tax but can’t vote.
Set a Vote
What could you make more democratic in your household/friendship circle? Think of something that is important to you, for example what to have for dinner, what games to play, which park to go to for a bike ride.
Decide who has the right to vote in your process – do you want to include everyone, or are the restrictions based on age, gender, wealth, background etc. How would it feel to be excluded from the right to vote? Are you choosing a system that lets you vote but not some other people? Often those allowed to vote look and sound a lot like those who got to decide on who had that right.
Choose which voting system to use (see below) – maybe you want to run your vote a few times trying out different systems, or maybe you think one would work best. Are you choosing based on what will get the best result for you? Often it is difficult to get a government to change the system that is in place – even if it is unfair – because it is the one they got elected under.
In most elections people vote anonymously, via a secret ballot. Will you use this system or ask people to put up their hands, or make another public show of their choice? What might be the benefits of a secret ballot? Of course if you have chosen consensus decision making then this is a public discussion.
If you have decided on a secret ballot then create your ballot papers. You could use the template attached or create you own. They all need to be the same with a space for people to put their vote without anyone knowing who they are. If you have chosen STV you will need a space for people to put their preferences.
Firstly, make a space where people can vote privately. The next step is to get a box where the papers can be safely put until the votes need to be counted. Finally, count the votes twice to make sure you haven’t missed any.
Otherwise, find a space where you can all discuss your options if you have gone for consensus decision making.
Reveal the results of your vote. How does everyone feel? What decisions have you made? Was this a satisfying way to come to a decision? What else could you decide in this way?
There are lots of different systems for voting. Different ways of casting your vote, of counting them, and of deciding who has won. There are some really great descriptions of different voting systems, how they work and where they are used on the Electoral Reform Society website. Here are a few of the most used systems:
First past the post — whoever gets the most votes wins overall, even if they only win by one vote.
For example — A class of 12 children were choosing what snack to have at after school club. 3 voted for satsumas, 4 for apple slices and 5 for toast. Under this system everyone would have toast as it got the most votes.
First past the post is what we use in general elections in the UK. Each constituency (area) in the country votes for their MP. Whichever party has the most MPs is asked to form the government. Sometimes they might not have the most votes overall in the country, but their MPs have won by at least one vote in the most constituencies.
Proportional Representation — the decision is made based on the proportion of votes each option gets.
For example — A class of 12 children were choosing what snack to have at after school club. 3 voted for satsumas, 4 for apple slices and 5 for toast. Under this system everyone would have 1/4 of a satsuma, 1/3 of an apple and 5/12 of a slice of toast.
Proportional Representation is the most common electoral system — 80 countries use it. There are lots of different versions of it, and it often means that smaller parties get seats in parliament as well as the bigger ones.
Single Transferable Vote — everyone ranks the options in order of their preferences.
Their first choice gets a ‘1’ their second choice a ‘2’ and so on. An option needs a set amount of votes to get chosen. This is known as the quota. Each voter has one vote. Once the counting has finished, any candidate who has more number ones than the quota is elected. But, rather than ignore extra votes a candidate received after the amount they need to win, these votes move to each voter’s second favourite candidate and so on until all the choices are decided.
For example — A class of 12 children were choosing what snack to have at after school club. 3 voted for satsumas, 4 for apple slices and 5 for toast. Under this system satsumas are now eliminated as they are the least popular. Everyone who put satsuma as their first choice put apple as their second because they really wanted fruit. That means that now apple slices has 7 votes and toast only 5. Toast is eliminated and everyone gets apple slices.
Ireland and Scotland use Single Transferable Vote and it is a form of proportional representation.
Consensus Decision Making — this isn’t a voting system as such, but is a way of making decisions without voting, by trying to find a solution that everyone is happy with.
For example — If a class of 12 children were choosing what snack to have at after school club they would discuss the merits of each option, with everyone getting to have their say. As a group they would try to come to a decision, or a compromise, that everyone was happy with. This might result in one of the original options, or a combination of several, or a different snack all together.
Often, organisations that do not believe in hierarchies use consensus decision making when they want to ensure everyone is involved in and owns the decisions that are making. It can be a slow process but often comes up with exciting and different results. If you want to have a go at consensus decision making, try our activity Fist-to-Five.
Take it Further
Did you feel that one kind of voting system was better than the others? Why not get involved in the various campaigns to change voting in this country? You could also become a part of the Votes at 16 campaign if you feel that young people need a voice in parliamentary democracy.
You might also like to try Build Back Better, an invitation to dream about how you want the world to rebuild after the COVID-19 pandemic – and to contact your elected representatives to make those dreams a reality. Or Flip-Flopping, a game that makes you think about both sides of an argument.